A few of my favorite things #8

Watching pelicans land on water.  Nothing more complicated than water skiing in cold weather.

An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) skiing into a landing on water (2009_02_14_008604_n)
An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) skiing into a landing on water (2009_03_07_011916_n)
An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) skiing into a landing on water (2009_11_14_038345)

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All photos of American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos).

Watching pelicans land on solid ground isn’t quite as exciting.  They’re not clumsy or awkward about it, but it involves more aerial braking and some hopping-cum-trotting that ends quickly.

12 thoughts on “A few of my favorite things #8”

  1. I wonder what cues they use to tell the difference. Since the decision on how to land would need to be made prior to landing. Reflection? Movement? Smell? All of the above?

    Is the last one a juvie? Or just winter-plumage? He looks a lot paler than the two in breeding costume. Also he seems to have a lot more black in his secondaries, unless it’s just a trick of the light.

    Great photos. Great timing!

    1. Thanks, Seabrooke! Thankfully pelicans are readily available all winter at the lake where I live, so it’s easy to sit and watch them for hours just to catch images like these. When they kettle in autumn and spring, I can watch from my patio as the sky fills with them.

      I’ve often wondered about the landing determination as well. And not just with regards to water landings and pelicans, but bird landings as a whole. Is it the same mechanism from a common ancestor when they master a branch landing as opposed to a ground landing? And what of water versus land? Evolution has recently shown that the same skill can come from different traits in different species, so it would be interesting to know how the pelicans decide which landing maneuver to use based on where they’re landing and if it’s the same skill other species use under similar circumstances.

      As for that last photo, the excess dark on the secondaries is a trick of the light and angle. The contrast is high in that image because of how bright the scene was. As for the age of the bird, it’s hard to tell from that image. The only way I know to identify a juvenile white pelican is by the dirty appearance of some feathers on the outside of the wings and sometimes on the head, neck and breast. My first guess is that this bird was an adult in non-breeding plumage, but I could be wrong. (That photo is from late autumn whereas the other two are from late winter, so the plumage differences are to be expected in adults.)

    1. Thanks, Swampy! And I hear you about cold feet. I have some photos where there’s shorefast ice around the lake, yet the pelicans (and other birds) are standing belly-deep in the water as they preen. Gives me chills just looking at them!

  2. These pictures are so great! Pelicans are one of my favorite birds – I never get tired of watching them. Thanks for posting…might have to take a trip to WRL soon to see the action firsthand.

    Merry Christmas, Jason!

    1. Thank you, Amber! I figured you’d appreciate the photos given your crush on pelicans. And you’d be well served by visiting WRL to watch them. Since the lake isn’t massive and the birds are acclimated to people, it’s not difficult to get somewhat close to them, and it’s VERY easy to observe them for extended periods of time.

      I hope you and AJ have a marvelous Christmas and a safe holiday season, my friend! All my best!

    1. Funny you mention Canada geese, Scott. I was just looking at some photos where I captured one coming in for a landing. The bird is just above the water with wings and feet extended, mere moments before touchdown. I’ll have to peruse that series again to see if I captured the actual skiing scene.

    1. Thank you, Mom! I was thinking about where they might be close to you. They seem to be rare near Caddo Lake, and even when they show up it tends to be on the Louisiana side. Otherwise it would be one of the other open lakes further away from the farm.

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